Re: An urban legend regarding documentation?

Subject: Re: An urban legend regarding documentation?
From: "Mike O." <obie1121 -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 2003 10:14:01 -0500

Gilda Spitz wrote:
> I have a question about the Challenger disaster, regarding
> its documentation.
> I heard a rumour that the person writing documentation for NASA
> wanted to insert a warning regarding the O rings, but was instructed
> to omit it. I suspect this is an urban legend, but I haven't been able to
> find anything relevant on my usual Urban Legend Web site.

I have heard this story plenty of times, too. I don't know for sure if it is
true, but I read an explanation some time ago that goes like this: In any
large, critical engineering organization like NASA, many engineers are
continuously examining every aspect of their area of expertise, and they are
constantly issuing warnings about possible failure modes, based on scenarios
that may be extremely likely, or may be far-fetched. This is partly because
that is their job, but also there is an element of CYA and covering all your
bases. These emails and memos are produced continuously for the lifetime of
the project.

So it is extremely likely that, should anything fail at all, that a memo
will be uncovered that warns of that exact scenario, and then attention
turns to the question "Why did management ignore the memo?"

Tech writers warn of failure modes all the time, but they too are ignored.
If you explain that users will probably find your billing GUI confusing, it
is likely that no action will be taken. In the future, you may silently lose
one or more sales because of your confusing billing screen. But since a lost
sale is usually not a spectacular event, your warning will not be remembered
or associated with the lost sale.

Mike O.



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